Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Married to a chef

"Wow I'd love to be married to a chef!" - I hear this a lot when I tell people about Mr H's line of work.  But let me tell you, it's not all glamorous meals out and rosette standard food in your own kitchen.  Don't get me wrong there are perks to being the other half of a culinary expert (hello free meals!) but it's definitely not the lifestyle for everyone.

So here's an insight into what it's really like to be married to a chef:

1. Unsociable hours

As you've probably guessed, chefs work very unsociable hours.  Mr H's normal working day starts anytime between 6 and 8:30 am (depending upon if he's working the breakfast shift), he may then get an afternoon split between 3:30 and 5 pm, if he's not working an AFD (All F-ing Day...), then he's lucky to be home before midnight most nights. 

Chefs also work weekends and holidays it's pretty he's lucky to have any social life at all!  Friends and family (including moi) need to be understanding, and you'll need to accept that you'll go to a lot of events or gatherings on your lonesome.  Which brings me nicely onto my next point...

2. Ships in the night

If, like me, you work a regular Monday to Friday, 9-5 job you will be lucky to get a fleeting hello or goodbye from your chef. Ships in the night is definitely a good description.  Mornings are always a sleepy rush to get ready and get out the door and when Mr H goes back to work if he gets a split I'm just about leaving the office.  By the time he gets home in the evening I'm usually asleep or near enough to be pretty useless company. So it's pretty easy to go days (and days) without really seeing each other even though we live in the same house!

3. They rarely cook at home

Let's face it, no-one likes bringing their work home so I think it's pretty standard for a lot of chefs to live off take-aways or convenience foods during their working week and to want to take a break from cooking on their days off.  Plus, unless you're willing to spend a small fortune on equipment it's unlikely your home kitchen is equipped with a professionals tools.  This obviously doesn't mean that good food can't be made there, but let's not expect a restaurant standard menu ay?  Mr H is passionate about food and loves to be cooked for, just remember to expect 'constructive' criticism - he is a professional after all...  

Although it is lovely when when Mr H surprises me with dinner when I walk in the door and I know I'm in for a treat the fact that this doesn't happen on a weekly basis isn't necessarily a bad thing. Wonderful as his food is it's not always the healthiest (think salt and butter) and I tend to put on a few pounds when he's home for a period of time so less is definitely more, but a treat now and again never hurt anyone!

4. Health and Stress

Anyone who's seen Hell's Kitchen will know that being a chef can be stressful.  They work in a high pressure, time sensitive, hot hot hot environment either being shouted at or barking out orders to make sure everything is going smoothly.  Plus, although they're surrounded by food all day long chefs don't necessarily get a lot of chances to actually eat.  There is a saying 'never trust a skinny chef' but if that chef is working his butt off chances are he will be on the slim side!  Working in a physical environment, being under continuous stress and grabbing convenience food on the way all point to a potentially very unhealthy lifestyle.  This is worth bearing in mind when you are the other half of a chef, yes they're old enough to look after themselves, but I'm sure they wouldn't complain about a good home cooked meal (and maybe a multi-vitamin) being left in the fridge when they get home...

5. The Restaurant Experience

As a chef's plus one it's likely that you will be lucky enough to sample food in a range of amazing restaurants (sometimes free of charge!).  But beware, taking your chef out to dinner can be like taking a professional dancer to your zumba class.  It may be nice, it may be fun, but it's not how they would do it, those two dishes shouldn't be served together, the duck is overcooked, what's the point of this cabbage?  You get the point, a lovely relaxing meal becomes a food audit.  Plus, suddenly you resent paying for something when you've been given a full breakdown of the actual cost it takes to make.

Sometimes it's just easier to go to Pizza Hut.

Also, it's worth mentioning here that I have what Mr H calls 'an untrained pallet'.  That is, I prefer basic food (hello mashed potato and gravy!) and have no idea how to use saffron, aspic jelly or sometimes even salt and pepper (!).  BUT I would say my taste buds have evolved over the time I've been with Mr H and I've definitely become less picky about what I eat - "deep fried scallop?  Pass it over!".  

6. Chef Whites

Ahh chef whites.... the bane of my life.  Everywhere I look around our home there are chef whites.  Waiting to be washed (stinky!), hanging out to dry or waiting to be ironed.  They're everywhere.  And don't get me started on stain removal!  With his crazy working hours I've taken the role of ironing Mr H's chef whites.  I dread to think how much of my life has been spent ironing whites, aprons and trousers.  If your chef can get their whites laundered at work, make sure they do!

7. Stability

A word of warning, it's not uncommon for chefs to change jobs fairly regularly and at least every 12 months or so.  This was a bit of a shock to me at first but I'm kind of used to it now, although I can't help thinking with every new job, "maybe this is the one he'll settle into". I think that the reason for changing jobs so regularly is partly because this is how chefs seem to move up the career ladder and gain experience, but I also think it's partly due to the fact that given the stressful environment they work in, if a kitchen isn't right for them it's very difficult for chefs to put up with it for long.  

Saying that, it's usually pretty easy for a chef to pick up work or at least do some temping.  Some chefs make a career out of temping as the money is so good, but can travel miles or live in somewhere for months at a time - not an ideal lifestyle for someone with a family.  Plus there's no guarantee for work or a steady income.  

8. Making it Work

So you're starting to think that your chef is merely a figment of your imagination and someone's playing a cruel trick leaving smelly chef whites on the bathroom floor every night.  But alas, you can make this work!

Over the years we've tried and tested a few tricks to make sure we get some quality time together or at least to discuss anything important. Sometimes these methods don't work all of the time, or at all, but it's important to try!

Here are a few hints and tips:
  • Make your own plans:  
    • I make sure I make plans to see friends, take part in hobbies and do my own thing.  It's easy to moan that your chef is never home when you've been bored on your own all week!
    • But I also try to be home for his split on the weekend and not to make plans on his evenings off
  • When schedules clash:
    • Making your own plans inevitably means that there will be times when your chef calls to say he has an unexpected night off when you've made plans to see a friend.  Your friend may be understanding and not mind if you want to rearrange but sometimes you'll just have to accept things can't always be scheduled perfectly - better than making no plans just in case! 
  • Be organised
    • We have a calendar to scribble down the main events of our week so we always have at least an idea of what the other is doing.
    • If you need your chef to be off for an important event, make sure you give them plenty of notice so they can book holiday or work days off around it
  • Communicate
    • Mr H will always try to call or text me on his split, even just a quick hello. I'll also text him to tell him about my day even though he may not pick my messages up until he's home in the evening with me snoring in bed! It's important to make these small bits of effort to keep in touch.
  • Make time 
    • Since we don't tend to get weekends together we try to book time away or days out together when we can. This may mean me taking time off work to coincide with his days off or us both booking time off to go away somewhere.
  • Don't expect too much
    • With a job like his, Mr H has little time at home.  Even on his days off he's speaking to suppliers, writing menus and organising rotas.  For this reason I've taken up most of the household jobs.  The deal is that he looks after the car and I look after the house and household finances.  We both do the gardening.  
    • BUT this is not an excuse for laziness!!
  • His time
    • I used to think that Mr H would want to spend all his free time with me and forget that actually he has friends, family and hobbies of his own.  Whoopsies!  So although it is important to spend quality time together, remember he needs his own space and time too. 
  • 10 minute moan
    • We all like to unload our daily stress, either over coffee with a friend or a long phone call.  Mr H doesn't get much opportunity for this so we have what's called a '10 minute moan' where we are allowed to moan about our day for 10 minutes before putting it to rest.  Not only does it give you an insight into each others day but you both feel ten times better for it!
  • Ultimately it's about making the most of any time you have together
    • Savor trips together, skip parties for a night in
    • Accept that somethings are beyond your control (like a table turning up late)
    • Be patient
    • And remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder!
For more advice and chat about being the other half of a chef check out this fab blog - Desperate Chef Wives!

Now, what to make for dinner?

 photo elliesig_zps47aabffe.jpg


  1. Ello sis! You forgot to mention one thing... family members love to cook for a chef and then watch as he eats it before scrutinising him about if it was good or not. After all, we're all good chef's and need a chef to tell us that :) Hanzi is the exception to this rule :)

  2. Great post and so accurate!! Love that you mention about changing jobs. That does take getting used to as a chef wife, doesn't it?